Bills to apply disclosure law to state-related universities
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State House and Senate members are preparing to introduce bills to bring Pennsylvania's four state-related universities under the Right-to-Know Law, spurred by decade-long secrecy in the Penn State University child sex abuse scandal.
Penn State as well as the University of Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln universities -- each a public institution -- are largely exempt from the disclosure law, even though collectively they receive more than $500 million in state taxpayer support each year.
It is a status that experts have described as unique in the nation and one those schools have used their considerable sway to maintain.
But interest is rising in both chambers to do what some lawmakers say should have been done when the state's Right-to-Know Law was last modified in 2009.
State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York County, and state Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawanna County, both have said they intend to introduce bills.
In the House, Mr. DePasquale said he wants to introduce his legislation when the session resumes early next month. He sent out a memo to colleagues a few days ago to measure support and already has heard from 30 members, Democrat and Republican, who have indicated they will co-sponsor, he said.
They hail from urban and rural districts and include H. Scott Conklin, D-Centre County, whose district encompasses Penn State, Mr. DePasquale said.
"The main driver for me is the money," Mr. DePasquale said. "The state puts significant amounts of financial resources into them, as does the federal government."
He said that in return, the schools ought to submit to scrutiny so the public can know how efficiently and appropriately the schools use their resources.
He and other legislators acknowledge the Right-to-Know Law could not have stopped the alleged sex assault of a boy in a campus shower by a assistant football coach in 2002. But knowing that records including internal campus correspondence might become public at any time could have encouraged faster disclosure by the university.
"When you know the public can review what you're doing, it gives you pause," Mr. DePasquale said. "It makes you think, 'This is something I had better be comfortable with.' "
He said he envisions the institutions being treated as state agencies, just as the 14 state-owned universities in the State System of Higher Education. At those schools, which include California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities in Western Pennsylvania, an accounting of all public spending is available down to presidential contracts, vender agreements, employee pay and spending receipts.
Less information is required under the law from the state-related schools, which must show all data that appears on an IRS Form 990 and a list of the 25 top salaried employees.
But both lawmakers agreed that top flight universities in other states are able to perform well while subject to much stronger disclosure rules.
"Does anybody believe that the University of California at Berkeley can not do good research because they're a part of the California Right-to-Know Law?" Mr. DePasquale said.
First Published November 18, 2011 12:00 am